Angel called me from the mansion around 8:30 the next morning. The cops had taken their sweet time getting things sorted out the night before, so he'd decided to just crash out up in the penthouse rather than slog back to LA. San Diego PD had treated him with surprising respect: they seemed to figure anyone with the pull and connections to coax a concealed carry permit out of Los Angeles County was somebody who could throw their weight around, no matter where they were. Angel's gun was inspected, had the registration checked, and returned in the space of twenty minutes. All three of the miscreants were carted off, with charges against them.
As I filled Angel in on the details of how our dinner had gone, he kept sighing in annoyance. When I finished, he said, "Dammit Lenny, Bekka is too valuable to be put at risk like that. She needs a full time bodyguard. You can't do it, you can't stay attached to her all the time. I can get a good soldier to go down there who can help watch over her and keep her safe. I've got a couple in mind. They'll be discreet, and they won't get in your way. I could have a guy down here by this afternoon."
I said, "So, what, we'd have some dude built like a thumb and the IQ of a pork rind with us all the time? Scaring the crap out of her fans? Ninety-nine percent of her fans are harmless, they just want to say hi and get an autograph. We don't really mind them. And we've been able to handle the one percent who are creeps. Hold on...." I held the phone away from my face and called to Bekka, "Hey hon, how do you feel about having a bodyguard?"
"Not so hot, actually," Bekka replied. "Tell Angel if he assigns one to me involuntarily, I'll just spend all my time figuring out ways to ditch him."
"You catch that?" I said into the phone.
"Yeah," Angel grumbled. "Look, we'll discuss this more when you get here. But after yesterday, the idea of Bekka walking around unescorted scares the shit out of me. This is new territory for me, and I'd rather be safe than sorry. When will you be here?"
"Fifteen minutes. Listen for the Harleys. What are your plans for the day?"
"Harassing you. Vinny's gonna check in by phone before noon, let me know if there's anything going on that needs my attention. And the Don and his people know where I am, so they may call if they have any news. Godspeed, Lenny. You need to see my side of things."
"Okay, ciao," I sighed.
"So Angel is back on the bodyguard kick, huh?" said Bekka, pulling on her engineers. "Not enough that you and I live like Siamese twins."
"You're worth a lot to him, in a lot of ways," I said, tying up my Doc Martens. "Not only are you a friend to him and his wife, you've also made him millions of dollars. Hell, you've made us a million or so, too. You know 'Bewitched' has sold over thirteen million copies in the US and Western Europe? 'Dangerous Desires' is around nine million, and 'Rocker Girls' has moved seven million. And 'Temporary Pleasures' is lined up to be another blockbuster. When we do 'Bewitched II,' that's sure to shoot the moon. The world wants Becky Page, and not everybody is willing to play nice. I'm not happy with his solutions, but I understand his concerns. Believe me, he'll be spending the day badgering us about it."
Bekka pulled on her gloves with a pouty look. "I miss being able to walk through a mall unrecognized, but at the same time I don't want some brick of meat knocking people out of my way, when all they want is an autograph. Like, imagine what it would have been like if I'd had a bodyguard with me at the party in La Mesa. Having Boss with us was just about right for that scene, he didn't see menace every time someone hugged me. A real bodyguard would have been throwing fits."
We went out and down to the bikes. Before we fired up, Bekka asked, "Do you think we'll ever live like normal people again?"
I replied, "Define normal. We've become inured to wearing guns, they're just a part of life. I'm sure our mafia associations will bring us more adventure, and we've adopted to that. This is just a whole new flavor of weirdness. Our lives have been weird ever since the first time we slept together. We'll weather it, and then something else weird will happen in our lives."
Bekka muttered, "I'd like to never wear a holster again for as long as I live," then hit the starter on her Sportster so it could warm up. I did the same. Thirty seconds later we blasted onto Neptune St. headed for the mansion.
In under ten minutes we were pulling into the driveway at the Inana mansion. We dropped our kickstands, shut down, swung off, and removed our helmets. That's when we heard a voice calling, "Becky! Becky!"
And here comes a heavyset guy around twenty-five, with a beard and a camouflage jacket, chuffing up the driveway. He had leaves in his hair. I had my jacket unzipped and my hand resting on the butt of my Beretta already. Bekka stared at this pudgy apparition and said, "Um, yes?"
Pudgy made a stage bow and said, "I am Cecil Richards, the man with whom you'll be having lunch with today. Don't worry, I will look better than this when that time arrives."
Bekka said, "What.... Where did you come from? Where did you park? Aren't you just a little too sure of yourself? What the fuck, Chuck?"
I said, "Start talking, boy, she asked you some questions."
Cecil confidently said, "I know it's been requested that you don't have visitors here at your studio, but Becky doesn't own property anywhere in San Diego county, so I haven't been able to find her home address. Sorting through all the property-owning Schneiders would take too long, and I don't believe that bullshit about Becky being married anyway. I figure that since I'm neither an autograph hound nor a creep, I won't be pissing people off by showing up here.
"In answer to your question, I parked down on El Camino Real and walked up. I waited in your bushes, hence the coat I'm wearing. I'd have just waited here in your driveway, but others were arriving and I didn't want to give the wrong impression. And Becky, I am sure I can show you how much I love you. We'll eat at Evelyn's, your favorite restaurant, and you'll see it is fated that we should be together. I'll wait in your boudoir while you take care of your, ah, business matters, then we shall have lunch. No need for your guard here, I'll be with you."
Bekka made a low hissing sound and said, "Well Cecil, you get a C for confidence. You also get a C for creepy. First off, this here is my husband Lenny. Yes, he exists, and currently has his hand resting on his gun, in expectation of you doing something stupid.
So you went through the property records to try and find my home address? And you hid in the bushes here waiting for me? You're a stalker. You---"
"I am not a stalker!" Cecil protested. "It's just, it is very important that we talk face to face. I love you."
"All stalkers want to talk to her face to face," I pointed out. "With some of them, it's deadly important."
Bekka continued, "You knew we have precautions against intruders, so you took measures to avoid them. You knew we don't want visitors, but you came here anyway. You're a stalker, and it's time for you to go."
Cecil's entire face roiled. He glowered, "I told you I'm not a stalker. Do not insult me. Anyone with two X chromosomes does not get to insult me. I come here and tell you I love you and this is how I'm treated? I thought you were different, that you were better." His face shifted again, to one of desperation. "Becky, I'll be the man you need. Just lunch is all, I can show you all the ways we were meant to be together. You don't need.... This guy, you need me. We need each other. You'll always---"
I cut him off, jerking my Beretta out of my jacket. I stood there with it hanging at my side. I said, "Listen, Galahad, it's time for you to go. We've got work to do, and I don't want her working while she's upset. Shut your fucking mouth, return to your car, and go home. I'll interpret any move you make that doesn't take you in the direction of the street as a physical attack on Becky, and will respond. You won't be the first man I've shot in this driveway."
The confident Cecil appeared again. "Okay, I'll play along with the whole 'husband' thing for a while. Why don't you join us for lunch, muscle? I'm sure Becky won't mind."
"I'm going inside now," said Bekka. "You're not invited. You need to leave. You can go three places from here: home, jail, or straight to hell, for all I care. Lenny, try pistol-whipping him, see if he gets a clue then."
I smiled, flipped the pistol in my hand, and raised it. I took a step towards him. He took a couple steps back, which I followed. He turned and began trotting down the driveway. I stomped after him. Hearing my footsteps, he doubled his pace. At the foot of the driveway, Cecil Richards paused long enough to scream "Assholes!" at us, then continued his flight down the hill.
Rejoining Bekka, we looked at each other and shook our heads. There was nothing to say. I put my key in the lock and we entered the mansion.
Angel was in my secretary Gina's office with her. We were interrupting a humorous anecdote, catching Angel saying, "So the the guy from Milan says.... Ah, Lenny, Bekka, I was starting to wonder. Everything okay?"
"Ran off a stalker just now," Bekka said. "Hey Angel, instead of getting me a bodyguard, how about hiring a rent-a-cop to hang around in the driveway during working hours? That would run off a lot of trouble. This idiot we just dealt with was hiding in the bushes. A rent-a-cop would convince people that we're not kidding, we really do want to be left alone here."
"Wait, you just ran off one of those assholes this morning? Where is he?"
I said, "Presumably back in his car and heading home, like he was instructed. I'll check in a few minutes to make sure nobody's hovering around outside."
Angel said,, "Dammit Lenny, these creeps need the law sicced on them. It's the only way they'll learn."
There was no way to hide my sneer. "Shit. I'm only happy with the police when they're not around. And it's easy enough to use some menace and scare the creeps. I threatened to pistol-whip this dummy, had my gun backwards in my hand, and away he scurried. Bearded, chunky losers who have issues with women aren't much of a challenge."
"Okay, yeah, you can beat somebody up. They hurt for a couple days and then are back in the game. But the cops can take away their freedom for extended periods of time. Remember, there are anti-stalking laws on the California law books these days. Even on a first arrest, a creep will have to post bail and make a couple court appearances, even if he's only in jail overnight. But then the creep has a record, and if he wants to play the same games still, a second arrest will send him up the creek. Away he goes."
I considered this and said, "Yeah, but personally, a lot of these creeps would never see the inside of a jail or prison. They're nuts, certifiable. They'd do their time in a mental facility."
Angel smiled. "And if they thought they were getting off easy, they're idiots. Say a creep is staring at, oh, eighteen months up in Soledad. He plays the mental health card and is instead placed in the funny farm. Well, his sentence just got destroyed. The shrinks determine when to release patients, and in the case of our creep, it won't be early. He could be stuck there for several years, far longer than his prison sentence. Once you're in the puzzle factory, it's hard to get out. You lose more of your freedoms than a prisoner would, and you are there by the whims of the shrinks. If they say you're still unstable, you aren't going anywhere."
"How do you know all this?" asked Bekka.
"Lenny knows the situation, you don't. This is a secret. You know I've got anger management problems, right? About seven years ago they were really bad. At one point Angela and I got in an argument over something really trivial, it escalated, and, um, I hit her. And then I'm looking down at her lying on the floor, her eye already swelling, and the enormity of it hit me. I'd hurt the woman I loved, who means more to me than anything. I hated myself for it. I spent the next twenty minutes sitting in the garage with a gun in my mouth, williing myself to put just a little more pressure on the trigger.
"Angela came out to the garage and talked me down. I was a mess. It was agreed that I would check into a mental hospital, a private one, both to deal with the suicidal urge and my anger problems. It was a great facility I was in, certainly better than a public nut-hatch would have been. And I was ready to go home after five or six days. Only thing was, the shrinks felt I needed more time. I stayed two weeks. In retrospect, they were right, I wasn't stable yet. All your behaviors are observed by the staff, and they keep notes, and the shrinks read those notes. You don't have secrets in the puzzle factory.
"Like for example, in the smoking area, you're not allowed to have matches or a lighter. They've got these electric cigarette lighting doo-hickeys on the walls. You poke your cigarette into a hole, press a button, and wait a few seconds. Voila, your cigarette is lit. Well, on my fourth or fifth day in, I went up to one of these machines and tried to light a smoke. It wouldn't work. I tried four or five times, and still no love. So out of force of habit, I punched it. Bloodied my knuckles some, did no damage to the machine. I went to another machine and got my light, forgetting all about it.
"There must have been a staffer around I didn't notice because my little tantrum was duly noted and reported to the shrinks. At my seven day review, they used this as one of the reasons why I needed to be kept longer. They also didn't like that I would refer to my fellow patients as 'fucking psychos,' or that I got fed up with the condescending tone of my assigned social worker and threatened to break all his fingers if he didn't start talking to me like an adult. I really didn't help myself when, after it was clear I was staying longer, I called the shrinks 'money-grubbing pussies' who were just trying to juice me by keeping me there.
I was already in on a 5250, and could have been staring at a 5270, a thirty day hold, if I didn't get stable. I started taking part in the group therapy, I engaged people in normal conversation, and I told the nurses that I needed a higher dose of Klonipin, what I was getting was not softening my edges. And I started paying attention to how I interacted with the world, really paying attention. I started catching myself when I'd start to lose my patience and begin to lash out. Like, if someone was talking bullshit in group, I'd force myself to tune them out. If it seemed like the meal line was moving too slow, I'd take a couple deep breaths and remind myself that an extra thirty seconds wouldn't kill me. It worked. A week later they wrote me my prescriptions and cut me loose."
"So were there people who should have been in jail residing in this place?" asked Bekka.
Angel said, "No, but the way things are run show just how screwed you can be if you think your time in the puzzle factory is limited. A 5150 is a seventy-two hour involuntary hold. Even though I was there voluntarily, they still processed me as a 5150 initially. A 5250 is a fourteen day hold, which is how they kept me for as long as they did. And a 5270 is a thirty day hold. All of these can be put on someone who, say, the police picked up because they were acting funny. Your rights evaporate as a mental patient, your freedom is at the whim of shrinks. So they can hold someone involuntarily for up to forty-eight days. Now just imagine how you're treated if you've actually committed a crime. If you'd gone to Soledad, you'd be able to mark on your calendar when you leave. In a mental hospital, you leave when they fucking let you leave."
Bekka said, "My god, Angel, I never knew you went through this. To be honest, you've never struck me as someone with anger management problems.... But then again, you almost never came down here to the studio back then. We never spent any time around each other until you, Frankie, and Vinny came down to get Inana's finances straightened up, remember?"
Laughing, Angel said, "Oh yes, when Rick went nuts and ran away from home. No, by then counseling and medication had done their job. I no longer have to process my reactions to outside stimuli."
I excused myself and went outside to see if Cecil (or anyone else) was creeping around. Things were quiet. Then a Nissan 300ZX pulled up across the street. Rio got out and lit a cigarette. She was followed by a Plymouth Sundance, which was piloted by Gayla. She hated that car. She wanted to replace it with anything, but was warm to my offer of taking her car shopping up at Rico Carelli's Cadillac dealership, get something with style and comfort. Hey, she was commuting from Allied Gardens to La Costa three days a week now, she needed something cushy, and could afford something sweeter than her husband's Ford Taurus. As Gayla put it, "Given what I earn in a week compared to the hubby, I'm within my rights to determine what counts as a luxury vehicle. I'm not about to pick up a Ferrari, but a blue, tastefully appointed Coupe de Ville is not unreasonable. He can even drive it on my days off."
The two joined me in the driveway. I lit my own cigarette. "So what's happening, boss?" asked Rio. "What are we doing today?"
I answered, "You two will be doing each other, at least part of the time. This morning is a three way with you two and Tex. Afternoon is a two-on-two with Gayla, Bekka, Chip, and Dale. Oh, and Rita called, she won't be here today. Her mom is sick, so she's taking care of her. This means it'll be up to you two to prep Tex, and Gayla, you and Bekka will have to prep Chip and Dale. Of course, Rio, I know how you can pick up some extra money this afternoon...."
"Oh, you want me fluffing?" asked Rio in amazement. "Just what kind of money are we talking?"
"$400. And that's higher than what I pay Rita."
"Sure, I'm in," Rio shrugged. "Chip and Dale are both pretty steady, I'll just need to prep them and keep them in service if there's any delays."
We stepped inside, the ladies stowing their purses in their lockers. I went back into my office, where Bekka was on the sofa and Angel had shifted to my chair. He started to jump up when I came in, but I waved at him to remain seated, settling next to Bekka. "So what's the word," I asked. "You two still talking about loony bins?"
"I was just about to make an offer," said Angel. "You two try having a bodyguard for seventy-two hours. You'd see if you're amenable to the idea. I think you'll find it pleasant to have your path cleared for you."
"But I don't want to alienate Becky's fans," said Bekka. "This guy would have to adapt to the fact that when, say, I go to the mall, I sign a lot of autographs and give out a lot of hugs. The underage sailors who like to hang out at the arcade love Becky Page. They're shy but friendly, they're no threat. This guard will have to learn the difference between my good fans --- which is most of them --- and my bad fans. He'll also have to learn that unless I'm in the middle of a movie, a meal, or a pinball game, I don't mind interacting with my good fans a bit. Like, here's a common scene. Lenny and I are walking through the mall. We hear a girl's voice say, 'Oh my god, are you really Becky Page?' We turn and there are three teenage girls there, staring in awe, then they squeal and move towards me. They all want autographs and hugs and to tell me how awesome I am. I will happily give them what they want, share a few words, and be on my way. They're not wasting my time: for god's sake, I'm at the mall, all I'm doing is wasting time.
"Or a scene that would have freaked out a bodyguard, one night me and Lenny were in the arcade. Came to realize there's a small group of sailors standing about forty feet away watching me. One of them works up the courage to speak to me. He haltingly says he wants my autograph, but has no paper. So he opens his shirt and says, 'Sign my chest!' So I did, and gave him a big lipstick print, too. He goes back to show off to all his friends. Several minutes later we look over and there's four more sailors standing there, and they all have their shirts off, and politely asked for my autograph. I gave them all autographs and lipstick kisses. Then they took off back to Miramar so they could get good pictures of each others chests. That was fan service. I don't mind fan service one bit. A bodyguard would have to adjust to that. We just want to keep the creeps away."
"You can't have a knucklehead doing this job, if we decide to go for it," I said. "He'll need to pick up on people's vibes real quick. Bekka and I can do it, he'll need to also. Where are you planning to find a guard, anyways/"
"He'll be one of your fellow soldiers," answered Angel. "I have a few people in mind, and they'd all be perfect for the job, they're used to watching for threats. So can I go ahead with this? Is it okay?"
Bekka and I looked at each other and shrugged. I said, "Seventy-two hours. If it's livable we'll keep him around. If not, it'll be like having an annoying houseguest for three days, then they're gone."
Angel smiled and said, "You won't regret this. I'm going to use the phone in the kitchen for privacy." He hopped up and headed that direction.
Bekka said with a smirk, "Well, at least Angel feels like he's doing something constructive."
I said, "And I get my chair back. I need to work on the 'Bewitched II' script. By the way, Ursula is going to fall in love with Eddie's character, Chrysler. The two of them will be consummating their love at the end of the movie. You'll need to bring your A game to that fuck scene, as will Eddie. It will be two people who, after much conflict, are admitting their love for each other. It'll need passion, but also closeness and a feeling of true love."
Bekka said, "Wait a minute, Eddie's character is named Chrysler?"
"Yep. Chrysler Goldberg. Cruel parents, they named him after the location he was conceived in. Ursula is the only one who isn't sardonically amused by his name, she thinks it's pretty. But she is also insane."
"So you're already at the end of the script?" asked Bekka.
I laughed sharply. "No, not at all. What I'm doing right now is thinking of cool scenes that should happen, and putting them down. Then I get them in the right order and connect them together, either through adding another scene or editing and patching the two scenes together. I know as long as I have cool shit happening on a regular basis, I'm good. Awesome shit starts and ends this movie so far, and I've got some really cool shit that happens in the middle. Patching it all together is the only real challenge in writing a screenplay. You'll see when it's finished, we'll have something solid to work with."
Angel bopped into the office, saying, "Your back line should be ringing in a moment. Please let me answer it, okay?"
Sure as shit, the back line ringed. He was lucky I hadn't been dialing into the BBS for the latest Becky Page gossip. Angel snatched up the receiver and said, "Yes, Don.... That's fine, four is a good time.... I don't know what they are, let me ask...."
Angel asked, "So what are your plans for tonight?"
Bekka replied, "Mall food and pinball. Pick up Jane from home, drive to UTC mall, engage in a fast food frenzy in the food court, then play pinball. We wager five bucks a game with strangers."
"And what time does all this start?"
"We'll leave home around six."
Angel relayed this information, then smiled. "Of course, good morning sir!" He hung up.
I said, "So Angel, please tell us the whole story now. I can tell you're just bursting with enthusiasm."
Angel said, "Your bodyguard is going to be on his way in a few hours. He will be here at the mansion at four o'clock, follow the two of you home, then accompany you two to the mall. He will see to it you two have a relaxing evening."
"So, um, who is this guy?" I asked. "Do I know him from anywhere?"
"You may," Angel answered. "He's been looking after Don Ventimiglia for several years now, he's tough and he's pretty smart, too. His name's Nicky, and he's been the guy to walk two steps behind the Don since 1987. You ever met him?'
I made a desperate, bitter chuckle. "Yeah, I know Nicky. He's offered to kill me once already. He also called me a pimp, and you know how much I hate that. Why the hell did you pick that guy?"
"Because he's good at his job and he's becoming available. Don V. is cutting down some of his staff, in anticipation of retirement. The Don is holding onto his driver, Dino, but feels like he's no longer in the catbird seat. Shit, now I am. So why did you nearly die at Nicky's hands? I'm curious."
"When the Don was my guest, I drove him home on the last day. I needed a ride back down here, and the Don instructed Nicky to do the job. On the way back, I turned on some of my music, which didn't make Nicky happy. Then he told me about how stressed everyone had been during the Don's absence, how frustrated everyone was, and how he'd make a lot of new friends if he just killed me. He'd have gotten rid of a source of stress. I don't know how much stress there was going around, but I do know he was serious at the time. The only real thing that saved me was my insistence that the first two be head shots, otherwise I'd be pulling my own gun and letting loose at him. And I'd already taken enough shots to be immune to lead poisoning. What the Don would do, when he found out about this, was another matter. Nicky didn't like hearing about how close me and the girls had gotten to ol' Vito. He also didn't want to hear about how pissed off Don V. would be if I got shot up by one of his own lackeys. We reached a stalemate around then."
Angel waved it off. "Nicky is a professional, I'm sure he's forgotten it by now."
I asked, "What does he know about this little assignment?"
"Only that he is coming to be the bodyguard for a celebrity named Becky Page. He has the address for the mansion, not your home. It is presumed he will stay in your house, even if that means crashing on a sofa. I have no idea if he is familiar with Becky Page or not, he will assume that Becky is young, female, and friendly. And prone to trouble, if she needs a bodyguard."
"What I need is a license to kill creeps," complained Bekka.
"Creep hunting," I considered. "When is creep mating season? That would determine when you could hunt for them."
"Creeps don't mate, they're creeps. They're a biological aberration born of normal parents."
Angel said, "Creeps are always in season. It's just what to do with them after they're dead."
"They're pretty gamey, but they make good sausage," suggested Bekka.
I said, "They're dead and they're creeps? They're the perfect Pacific Bell employees."
"Live sound engineer for Spyro Gyra."
"We have a winner."